East Falls community reacts to St. Bridget closure

Serving as a coda to the monthly East Falls Community Council meeting, an open discussion was held Monday night to discuss the impact and implications of the closing recommendation of St. Bridget Catholic Elementary School in East Falls.

As reported by Newsworks, Archdiocesan officials announced late last week that St. Bridget is slated to merge with Holy Child Elementary School in Manayunk.

The consolidated schools would operate out of Holy Child’s current location on Hermitage Street.

Tom Sauerman, President of the East Falls Community Council, opened the conversation with an appraisal of Saint Bridget School’s stature in the neighborhood.

“The closing of Saint Bridget School affects the entire community,” he began. “You don’t have to be Roman Catholic,” he noted, “and you don’t have to have a child at the school to be affected [by the closing].”

“We thought that the community council has a responsibility for all residents,” continued Sauerman, “and we are looking for ways in which we can be effective and that are appropriate for a community council.”

He pointed out that while conscientiousness and compassion are motivators, a community council should not have primacy in any action taken.

“The parish and the parents have a primary role in this matter,” he clarified.

“How do you measure a good school?”

Responding to a query from the gallery, Dr. Darryl Ford, Head of School at William Penn Charter School, provided context to the school decisions and attempted to answer the question, “how do you measure a good school?”

The most basic level, said Ford, is the emotional and physical safety of students.

After this is achieved, indices of consistent academic progress from year to year are an important assessment tool.

Germane to the issue of Catholic schools, observed Ford, are the interests and desires of the individual parishes, which have a singular manifestation – enrollment.

“One of the big issues we have in both the parochial school system and the public school system is capacity,” he said, adding, “the numbers at St. Bridget suggest a capacity issue.”

Being unsure of the specifics, Ford speculated that there probably exists a tuition deficit at St. Bridget, which strains an already stretched archdiocesan budget.

He suggested that solvency is the solution, if only temporarily.

“The school could try to pay its own way for a while and buy some time,” he offered, “and figure out how to build those (dwindling) classrooms.”

“Something needs to be leveraged,” Ford concluded.

Considering the options

John Grady, an East Falls resident and St. Bridget parent, spoke next.

He suggested that the best course of action is to consider “what the options are going forward.”

His wife Megan is President of the St. Bridget Home School Association, and he relayed that there is a parent’s meeting expected next week to discuss possible courses of action.

Assessing the situation, Grady said that many in the parish “understand the need for consolidation.”

He noted that the archdiocese currently subsidizes 25 percent of the school’s budget, and that the parish does not have the resources to address the school’s financial shortcomings.

As such, Grady suggested that instead of working to oppose closure, parent and community efforts could instead be turned toward the possibility of consolidating at St. Bridget School rather than at Holy Child Elementary, the site of the proposed merger.

Fallser editor Julie Camburn supported this proposal, noting “horrendous” traffic problems in Manayunk.

‘If we can’t stop this closure,” she asked, “what can we do to ensure a good response to our community’s wishes, so that our kids can still walk to school?”

With many possibilities still in consideration, Grady asked for restraint in contacting the archdiocese until a workable plan has been constructed.

“I will do what I need to do”

Linda Norris, an East Falls resident for 60 years and St. Bridget alumnae, questioned the salience of this advice.

“If we show (the archdiocese) we’re sincere,” she said, “I think they would reconsider closing the school.”

Norris said she’s collected a petition with numerous signatures opposing the closure, and “will do what I need to do” to prevent the school’s door from shutting.

“If they shut the front door,” Norris said defiantly, “I’ll go in the back door.”

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